‘It’s like something out of an Enid Blyton book’
Occasionally a project comes along which is utterly unique and distinctive, and LHC has just such a project underway, Seafield House on the North Devon coast. We’re shining a spotlight on it because it’s one of several currently being designed by an all-female team here at LHC.
Led by architect and conservation specialist Jill Himsworth, with interior designers Jemma Barnard and Louise Noakes, the team has been working on this fascinating project for some time. They have recently produced concept designs which will completely transform this large Victorian Gothic house, perched extraordinarily close to the cliff edge in the seaside village of Westward Ho!
Built in 1885 as a summer residence for wealthy London banker Brinsley de Courcey Nixon, Seafield House is a much loved local landmark with a vivid and interesting history (and a reputation for being haunted). However, years of neglect and wild weather have rendered it derelict and at risk.
The aim of its present owner, local businessman Rob Braddick, is to rescue the imposing building from decay and the encroaching cliff edge and transform it into a spectacular holiday rental, with expert input from LHC Design and engineering consultants John Grimes Partnership.
The complex architectural restoration and the addition of two sensitive extensions is the challenge being undertaken by Jill who is one of the senior team at LHC. Jill is an Associate and architect with a particular expertise in conservation and heritage projects, and plenty of experience in designing for sensitive and challenging environments. Jill said:
Conservation architecture is about much more than protecting and prolonging the life of older buildings. I aim to understand what it is that makes a historic building special and significant and decide how that can be enhanced to produce unique and characterful spaces.
LHC were commissioned not only to repair and restore the building itself, but to create a vision for what the interior of the fully refurbished property could look like. With remarkable, uninterrupted views from many of the large windows, and original features in abundance, the old house provides a fantastic canvas on which interior designer Jemma can apply her full range of creative skills. Jemma said:
It’s a test of our skill as interior designers to deliver a scheme which has wow-factor but doesn’t break the bank. Sustainability is something I’m passionate about and reuse is an important factor in our proposals, not only to reduce the environmental impact, but also to craft the luxurious, lived-in look we think the house deserves.
Researching and responding to the story of a building, whether for hospitality, office or an education environment, is what we love to do every day. Taking on this completely unique building, in such a dramatic position was a real treat.
Years spent as a Victorian holiday home, then WW2 officer’s quarters and 1950s bed and breakfast have left behind layers of history in the interior of Seafield House which provided rich inspiration for Jemma’s interior design proposals – not least in the multiple layers of wallpaper on show.
With fellow interior designer and mentor, Louise Noakes, the pair have produced several options for comfortable, welcoming, luxurious environments. They’ve taken inspiration from both the location and the Gothic heritage to provide guests with a memorable experience from the moment they walk through the door.
Jemma joined LHC in 2021 after graduating from Plymouth College of Art with a First Class Honours in Interior Decoration, Design and Styling. Louise, a Senior Interior Designer at LHC who also teaches at the art college, spotted Jemma’s talent and suggested she apply to join the LHC interiors team.
From the windows overlooking the dramatic clifftop garden you can see as far as Baggy Point to the east and Hartland Point to the west. The garden itself has been somewhat eroded over the years, but the cliffs will be fully stabilised at part of the major refurbishment works. The private steps down to the beach where the de Courcey Nixon family would sunbathe and swim – a feature which prompted Jill to describe it as ‘like something out of an Enid Blyton book’ – will be reinstated. Additions such as hot tub, private seating and BBQ area will be sensitively worked into the landscape.
Seafield House isn’t the only project the all-female team are currently working together on. The old Market Hall in Newton Abbot is also being transformed into a multi-use community space under their talented direction.
Jill’s designs for the transformation of Paternoster House in central Exeter, the city’s first purpose built department store, won planning approval in 2020; and when this landmark project gets underway it will be one the interiors team will be only too happy be involved with.